Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Real Madness of March

 I'm the guy in the red shirt. 

After yesterday's Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Road Race, I was talking to a guy who's run the race every year for the last 25 years. He said that without a doubt, yesterday's race was the warmest he could remember.

Warm temperatures + hilly course + 5000 people = bad results in the race for me.
I trained for six weeks because I wanted to do better than I did last year. I was ready. And then I got to the starting area and found a sea of people, many of whom were talking about how "perfect" the weather was for a race. Let's just say that I differed with them on that point, especially when I could feel the heat coming off the pavement as I waited for the race to start. But I should have known that this race wasn't the best place to try and set a personal best when I saw the rather zoftig woman with carefully applied makeup talking on her cell phone right before the race was going to start, in the front row where the elite runners line up. 
I had to pass people with dogs in the race, people who were walking the whole race in the middle of the road, and people with strollers. 

Yes, I'm bitter about this.  I need to remember for next year that this is a party race, a place for people to have fun.  It's a race where the spectators line the course and do a great job of cheering everyone on, and more than a few of them will give you a beer, if you want one. 

When I made that last turn and headed toward the finish line, all I saw in front of me was a sea of people--spectators lining the streets and runners running with me.  I finished in 2009th place, and that was an above-average performance.  It was a great day in Holyoke, and I'm sure that I'll be back again next year.  Just look for the guy in the red shirt with the expression of bitterness on his face. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Big Dance

Today marks the tip-off of the 2010 NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament, also known as March Madness or the Big Dance. 
Two days ago, my alma mater—two days after not being invited to the Big Dance—fired its basketball coach. 
Now, the situation with the coach is not as clear as I may have presented it.  That is, he was not necessarily fired because the team didn’t have a successful season. In fact, if recent news reports are correct, he was fired because he was a jerk who pissed off everyone he worked with and who recruited players of questionable character, including one who was arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping. 
I’m glad to see the guy go. 
But as I worked on my brackets this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other awful coaches are out there, and how many socially maladjusted and academically unprepared players are out there.  And I couldn’t help but wonder about whether any limits can be placed on the greed that lies at the heart of this enterprise, as shown in the multi-billion dollar payments for television rights, the additional millions in licensing, and the money earned in everything from area advertising to concession sales.  And how all of that is born on the backs of the players, who may get scholarships but who don’t see a dime beyond that. 
Now this isn’t intended as a screed against Big Time College Athletics and its inherent evil.  You can find those anywhere. No, this is more of a rumination on a personal realization that I’ve had this week: I don’t seem to be doing as good a job this year of being able to turn a blind eye to some of the wrongheadedness that schools engage in when they seek success in athletics.  I graduated from Seton Hall in 1989, the year the basketball team made its spirited run to the NCAA Championship game, only to lose in overtime.  After graduating, I spent ten more years at the school, first as a graduate student and then as a faculty member who had athletes in his class.  As an alumnus, I like it when my school’s team does well.  As an educator, it bothers me to think about the hypocrisy involved in promoting student athletes who are participating in a three-week, nationwide tournament at a time when classes are in session. 
To put it mildly, it seems unfair to expect college kids to learn under such adverse conditions. 
So, in the end I find myself wondering if, when, and how anything might change.  This year my two sons filled out their brackets for the first time.  Will they be doing the same with their children in 40 years, wondering how things got so out-of-control? 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Random Thoughts on Turning the Corner

Daylight Saving Time began on Sunday morning and spring officially begins on Saturday.  After a lousy few days filled with cold temperatures, high winds, and rain, it's now sunny and almost sixty degrees outside. I'll risk angering the gods of winter and say it: Winter's over.  Pack away your shovels and winter coats, because it's going to be clear sailing from here on out. 

Not only is Saturday the first day of Spring (I can't help capitalizing it), but it's also the day of the Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Road Race, a 10k race through the streets of Holyoke that this year will mark its 35th year.  The forecast calls for sun and a temperature in the mid sixties.  That might be a tad too warm for runners around here who haven't had time to get used to such warmth.  (I'm saying that because it gives me another excuse to put into my excuse arsenal in anticipation of having to figure out why I didn't do as well as I wanted to in the race. This will be my third time running it.  The last two times, the course got the best of me.  I have high hopes for this year.  We'll see.)

The weather is breaking at the right time for St. Patrick's Day and its parades and general carousing, as well as for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, which doesn't really need nice weather but we'll take it.

I've never really been a big fan of March, but this year I'll take it. A little bit of sunshine is all I needed.  

Monday, March 1, 2010

Watching the Watchers

In Woody Allen’s 1971 movie Bananas, the lead character finds himself in the middle of a revolution in Central America on the side of the rebels. After the government is overthrown, the head of the rebel group addresses the cheering crowd and outlines some of his agenda items now that he’s in charge. Among his new rules: underwear must be changed every half hour and be worn on the outside so that it’s easier to check, and every child under the age of 16 is now 16 years old.

You can see the clip here:

This scene ran through my head as I watched the video clip posted on from the most recent meeting of Northampton’s Veterans Affairs and Social Services Sub-Committee. In the clip, councilors Tacy, Plassman, and LaBarge discuss items they’d like to put on their agenda, primarily raising the fine for possession of marijuana, putting drug-sniffing dogs in the schools, and restricting access to the Meadows. None of those topics falls under the purview of this particular committee, but none of the councilors seemed to worry at all about that. Then, in a somewhat surreal video moment, the voice of an unseen person can be heard asking that the prohibition of escort ads in the Valley Advocate be added to the list. Was this person an elected official? No, he was a member of the public who just happened to be there videotaping the meeting.
I suppose I should be grateful that the person behind the video camera didn’t suggest something worse, like…wait: he suggested throwing out the First Amendment. There’s not really much worse than that.
Let me just say that I’m glad that people are videotaping this stuff and putting it online, frankly because I’m too lazy to go to all of these meetings. And I think that’s what most people want out of their city government: to keep things as convenient as possible. That means that City Councilors shouldn’t go and mess with things that aren’t their job to mess with, because that just upsets the general order of things. We don’t need to make our schools more like prisons, we don’t need to usurp the role of parents or assume that 75% of voters who voted for Question 2 in 2008 were wrong or duped. And we certainly don’t need to strong-arm private businesses by promoting censorship.

I'm pretty confident that these proposals won't go anywhere, but I'm going to be keeping an eye out just to make sure.